"The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power."-Chomsky

"The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management." -J.H. Kunstler

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

6/6-6/10/09: Home Again

"Avoiding Hillsdale like Herpes" was an understatement. I had tried several times with limited success to "escape" in the years after high school, only to inevitably find myself right back where I started with just a few new anecdotes. I knew I would have to get out eventually, naturally assuming that it was Hillsdale that made me miserable. Typical victimist thinking, but it served the purpose of motivating me to get a bit creative with my "escape" methods and helped me to stumble on a vocation: radio. In 1994 I went off to broadcasting school in Detroit, and after yet another return, found myself 'freed' for good in early 1997 after my radio career finally got going. Since then, the visits have been rare with the exception of 2000, when among other things I decided to try playing softball with old friends-until getting my night show ended that.

Returning has always been like watching the videotape of a night of heavy drinking: cringing repeatedly! Everywhere I turned, it seemed that there were reminders of the levels of douchebaggery I had reached while there. I still had a few friends around, but as we steadily lost contact, I tried to resign myself to the notion that I would ultimately be one of those who just vanished, except for the few people who knew the station I was on and the stage name I used. My mother had never left so I would make a few trips every year, but it was more like a tactical strike with a specific target. I was always mindful not to stray "off course" and of getting out as quickly as I could! This has been the case for the past nine years, and the visits had dwindled to maybe once a year since I moved out of Michigan in 2004.

Another particularly interesting side note, and one that I'm reluctant to mention, is that I have had recurring dreams about Hillsdale, involving friends, forgotten acquaintances, my house, softball, and odd, seemingly random places for years. Places that had made no sense, like an unfamiliar bar on a lake somewhere down US-12 toward US-127. And, these dreams were so common, like 4-6 times a week at times, that they became downright annoying. "Why the hell am I always dreaming about that place!!" I mentioned it to my girlfriend a couple years ago, but none of it made any sense. I had never considered returning to the area for any real period of time until I connected with Shelly in February of this year. That too had some odd, weird circumstances. More on that at another time, but as Chris and I entered Michigan for the first time, the first of these little premonitions, or deja vu, began making themselves apparent.

Following the week with Brian, I tried to keep low expectations for this visit. I had been in touch with my friend Bob for about a week, and while he seemed just as I remembered, I was wondering how we'd interact these days. And, I was curious to get Chris' take on all of this. He had very little background on where I had come from, and it wasn't lost on me that there may be a vast, unexplained gap between the person he knows, and the guy that my old friends remember. I too was quite interested in gaining an outsider perspective and especially to see my own reaction to the new, familiar atmosphere. My emotional reactions are always a fucking case study in the unexpected!

Sean dropped us off, snapped some pictures, and as soon as Bob & I said hi it was clear that little had changed with him. Bob's like an old pair of comfortable boots, for lack of a more flattering description! He's a bighearted, generous, friendly, loyal guy. Perhaps one of the two most loyal friends I have. I was quite grateful to be there after having to navigate the odd dynamics of the previous week. There was no analysis going on. No judgment. No diagnosis. I was Todd. He was Bob. That was Chris. We were friends. End of story. I laughed as we instantly resumed the long-dormant roles of tormenting each other. After ten minutes, it was like I had never left. I remember thinking, "Friends like this goofy fucker are a rarity." This was a good omen to what was about to become an almost unbearably intense few weeks.

These omens stuck around for all of Saturday night as Bob, Chris and I decided to try to find a bar where I could freak some people out. The problem was, that while there were several when I had lived here, there were now next to NONE anywhere within a safe driving distance, let alone walking. We decided on the near-empty bowling alley in Hillsdale to watch the Red Wings, then Bob suggested a bar in Somerset; a 30- minute drive away. This turned out to be the bar by the lake that I had repeatedly dreamed of! I about shit as he turned in, as you can imagine. At least there were people here, although none that I recognized. As we sat there drinking beer, it slowly began to sink in that I was indeed seeing my old hometown from the position of the familiar outsider.

I had also been quickly discovering how things have changed over the last 12+ years. This "crisis" they like to talk about now has been gutting rural Michigan's manufacturing base for years. It's this base that supports most of the people I knew, and I was shocked to discover that Bob was one of the rare people that still HAD a job, and wasn't either laid off or let go. They can quote unemployment figures all day long, but my unofficial unemployment "research" would come back with numbers a hell of a lot higher than "12 -15%" or whatever the latest "figures" are. To me it seems closer to 50%, and higher if you consider "underemployed." I suspect that many have said to hell with filing unemployment, and taken work under the table. One of the first things I noticed about Hillsdale itself is how quiet, and empty it is. Especially the main road thru town. I remember it being a whole lot busier.

People here are tough, blue collar types who won't whine, and don't want you to whine for them. They generally work hard, they play hard, and they live their lives raising their kids the best they can. The only thing they generally want is a fair opportunity to do just that, and to offer their kids a better future. Like people anywhere I suppose, except that this "opportunity" has been pulled from their still warm hands. I wont bother with the politics, because the politics just don't fucking matter. It was no better under Bush than it is now. If you think this "crisis" is something new, come pay a visit. It's only "new" and publicized because it's hit the economic elites, and the suburbs a bit. I only offer this brief commentary out of a realization (get used to that term now!) that I respect these people. I seek authenticity. This is raw and authentic. I was astounded to find myself thinking that! It occurred after some thought that in order to appreciate fully the blunt reality, perhaps you need to run in the circles of mentally masturbating "intellectuals" who fail to leave the circles of their safe, cushy, modern day salons.

The reminder of the week was crystallizing, and far from a new one. The idea of true wisdom as opposed to its illusion. Education without practical and visceral experience is as useless as being a trivia expert, unless of course your goal is making money and collecting shit. Hell, poker players do that! There needs to be personal context in which to frame and apply that million dollar degree, or we're nothing more than tools, or worse yet parrots squawking someone else's dictation. The ability to recite isolated facts does not make one wise. The ability to apply someone else's formula doesn't make one wise. Wisdom is turning data to knowledge then applying unique experience to that knowledge. No wonder so few people are truly wise. They seem to think they've gotten there early through hubris and buying the illusion that disconnected facts and formulae mean something significant. I'll save the rest of that rant for later, but this was the essence of my first four days in Hillsdale. Making friends with my roots, and perhaps the roads I've needed to travel to come to that realization.

Sunday was spent having a quick visit with an old classmate, Steve, who had driven down from Detroit to see Bob, Chris and I. He had sent me the brass alcohol stove and turned me on to Eckart Tolle last fall. We had spent hours philosophizing online over the winter, and I was looking forward to the sure mental- fireworks if Steve, Chris, and I got together. Unfortunately, he had little time to stay, but he had crafted an idea for us to ride with him to Minneapolis when he went on business later in the month. We figured 12-hours in a rental car would get us down the road AND provide lots of time to chat. It was a great idea, but the suits didn't like the math, insisting he fly instead. The following weekend I received another two packages from him, INCLUDING a collapsible fishing pole! I wish we would have been better friends earlier.

Another interesting revelation was that Hillsdale of all places was the friendliest town we had encountered to-date. As we were often sitting outside the gas station with our backpacks drinking coffee, or waiting for a ride, people would oftentimes stop by to say hello. One young man even handed us $10 when he left. Michigan people are NOT known for their outgoing, friendly nature, but Hillsdale is doing its part to counteract that. Go figure!

I went to see my mother of course, and went to Bob's softball game on Tuesday the 9th, where I had arranged to meet two more of my best friends from back in the day, Dave and Eddie. I hadn't seen Dave since 2000, Ed since 2004. These are two friendships that go way back, and have many cementing experiences binding them. Some involving bail, bloody frying pans, and damaged public parks. Ed has ultimately proven to be another friend, like Bob, who is always there, as-is, regardless of where you've been or what you've done. He's gone through a lot of changes over the years, and Chris and I both noted that he and I may have more in common now than before. It was also a smack in the face to see his kids! I hadn't seen them since the mid- 90's, and they're all grown now. My friends and I, including Dave, used to throw his oldest boy Denton around on his bed when he was a baby. I bought him a beer. I almost cried about the fact that I could. Dave and his wife Bonnie offered us their floor Tuesday night, and it was nice chatting with them after so many years and marveling at how their kids have grown. Their kids aren't much younger than Bonnie was when we first met her. There were other familiar faces around, and I thoroughly enjoyed the reunion atmosphere!

Bob picked us up again Wednesday morning, this time to try our hand at fishing. We caught nothing. We didn't even see a fish in the St. Joe. The afternoon was spent lounging beneath a tree at the bowling alley before meeting up with Ed for a nice chat then engaging one of the owners I had known for decades in an unexpected political/social conversation.

We had decided to camp on my mother's property right up the road Wednesday night, and on the way, Chris and I began discussing the changing ideas on our method and mindset. We had essentially been stationary for a month and a half since arriving at his mother's in New York City May 1, and it had become clear that there was nothing wrong with that. Ideas began to develop about possibly returning to Denver or Santa Fe to begin exploring other venues for our photographs then heading toward Idaho to meet my other sister, Lynn.

When Bob picked us up after dropping his son off at school Thursday morning, it was time to switch gears and prepare to meet Lynette's kids, Ben and Brad, at their grandmother's house. I was really looking forward to this, and wondered how many people had met their nephews--before meeting their sister! Good stuff!